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Media Analyses





Bill Moyers Rants Against Israel — And Jews


Bill Moyers, long a prominent figure with the Public Broadcasting Service, has crossed a journalistic and ethical line. In a commentary broadcast on January 9, 2009, he not only presented several highly distorted statements about the crisis in Gaza, but also depicted Israeli violence as a consequence of “genetic encoding.” In particular, Moyers falsely accused Israel of indiscriminately killing Palestinians in the recent round of fighting in the Gaza Strip and portrayed Israel’s military actions in Gaza as the equivalent of America’s use of napalm on villages during the Vietnam War.

 
The distortions appeared in the January 9, 2009 edition of “Bill Moyers’ Journal” in which Moyers discussed, among other things, the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip. He claimed the dead in Gaza were the “casualties and victims of Israel’s decisions to silence the rockets from Hamas terrorists by waging war on the entire population.” (Emphasis added.) He also stated that “By killing indiscriminately the elderly, kids, entire families by destroying schools and hospitals Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.”
 

Such assertions are outrageous. Israel has not “waged war on the entire population” of the Gaza Strip of 1.5 million people; it has waged war on Hamas and its terrorist infrastructure.

 

In fact, Israel has sought to avoid harming civilians in its efforts to bring an end to Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel. It has dropped leaflets, made phone calls and sent text messages to hundreds of thousands of people living near military targets in the Gaza Strip, while Hamas has launched mortars in close proximity to school yards and in one instance booby-trapped a school with explosives (placing the detonator in a nearby zoo) in blatant disregard of its own potential civilian casualties.

 

Hamas has also placed many of its weapons and ammunition stores in civilian installations, including mosques, which when attacked, generate secondary explosions that kill people nearby. Under international law, the presence of civilians near a legitimate military target does not render the target immune from attacks.
 
Despite Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, the majority of the Palestinian deaths suffered during the recent round of fighting has been of members of Hamas who are legitimate military targets. On January 14, 2009, the Jerusalem Post reported that a maximum of 25 percent of the approximately 1,000 Palestinians killed are civilians. All these deaths, especially those of civilians are a tragedy, but the fact remains, Hamas attacks civilians while hiding behind civilians guaranteeing civilian casualties, while Israel’s military works to avoid civilian casualties.
 

In an obvious attempt to smear Israel's military, Moyers invokes an Israeli attack on a “UN school in Gaza” without acknowledging that this school was, according to the IDF, being used to launch mortar rounds. Moyers may not believe the IDF’s assertions, but its well within the realm of expected behavior. The United Nations Work and Relief Agency, the entity that controls the school has admitted to employing terrorists on its staff. In other words, the UN is paying salaries to terrorists who seek the destruction of a UN member state. For a detailed description of how UNWRA resources have been used by terror groups, see Arlene Kushner's article in the Autumn 2005 issue of Azure.

 

The commentary also cites statements by a discredited Norwegian physician, Mads Gilbert, to demonize Israel. As documented in previous CAMERA analysis by Ricki Hollander, Gilbert is not a trustworthy source of information or commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Gilbert is a radical Marxist and a member of the political Red (Rodt) party, a revolutionary socialist party in Norway. He has been a pro-Palestinian activist since the 1970's and travelled to Lebanon in support of the Palestinians during the first Lebanon war in 1982. He has long been a vocal opponent of Israeland the U.S. Gilbert has acknowledged that he cannot separate politics from medicine, stating, "there is little in medicine that is not politics." He even criticizes the group Doctors Without Borders for providing medical assistance to both sides in a conflict instead of taking a strong stance and supporting only one party. In a 2006 article in Nordlys, journalist Ivan Kristoffersen lamented the fact that Gilbert allows his humanitarian efforts to be politicized by his radical agenda.  

 And in an interview with the Norwegian daily, Dagbladet, shortly after the attacks, Gilbert stated:

The attack on New York was not surprising, after the policy that has led the West in recent decades. I am upset over the terrorist attack, but am equally upset over the suffering which the United States has created. It is in this context that the 5000 dead people must be seen. If the U.S. government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, then there is also a moral right to attack the United Stateswith the weapons they had to create. Dead civilians are the same whether they are Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis.

When asked by Dagbladet if he supported the terrorist attack on the U.S., Mads Gilbert replied:

Terror is a bad weapon, but the answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned. (Sept. 30, 2001)

Gilbert has also appeared in apparently staged video “documenting” the medical treatment of a young boy dying in a Palestinian hospital.

 

Does Moyers truly believe Gilbert is a credible source of commentary on the fighting in Gaza?

 

Moyers also equates Israel’s attack on Hamas in the Gaza Strip with the U.S. use of napalm in Vietnam, while displaying on camera the iconic image of the naked young girl running down the street after she was horribly burned by U.S. air attack. Again, it must be noted that Israel has warned civilians to stay away from target areas, and Hamas has put its own civilians in harm’s way. How can Moyers make such a comparison given these facts?

 

The longtime PBS journalist also complains about the Israel’s efforts to explain its use of force against Hamas. Moyers declaims:

As if boasting of their might, Israel defense forces even put up video of the explosions on YouTube for all the world to see.

The IDF has posted videos on YouTube to demonstrate exactly what its forces are contending with – an organization that stores weapons in mosques, launches rockets and mortars from school yards, and booby-traps school buildings. Moyers omission of this information demonstrates why the IDF must post these videos on the internet. Most journalists would be grateful for footage documenting Hamas’ war crimes. Not Moyers.

 

The esteemed PBS commentator also gives superficial treatment to the anti-Jewish violence he invokes in his commentary. For Moyers, violence against Jews in Europe is emblematic not of the anti-Semitic propaganda put forth by Muslim and Arab extremists in the continent, but a consequence of Israel’s efforts to stop rocket attacks against its citizens. Did Moyers see the footage of extremists in Copenhagen chanting “Heil Hitler!” before it was removed from YouTube? Apparently not. Hate like this in Europe is not the result of fighting in the Gaza Strip, but of an anti-Jewish hostility that fuels the conflict in the Middle East.
 
His discussion of the West Bank is also equally distorted. He invokes the Christian right and “extremists” in Israel who claim “divine sanction” for the continued occupation of the West Bank without acknowledging that Israel agreed to withdraw from the West Bank during negotiations at Camp David and Taba in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. The fact is, Israel has been attacked from virtually every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the 1990s, and yet Moyers tries to portray Christian and Jewish “extremists” in the U.S. and Israel as the source of the conflict.

 

The most offensive the part of his commentary includes Moyer’s doubled-barreled attempt to portray Israel’s fighting in Gaza as a consequence of Jewish religious belief and genetics. The passage reads as follows:

What we are seeing in Gaza is the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record. Open your Bible: the sons of the patriarch Abraham become Arab and Jew. Go to the Book of Deuteronomy. When the ancient Israelites entered Canaan their leaders urged violence against its inhabitants. The very Moses who had brought down the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” now proclaimed, “You must destroy completely all the places where the nations have served their gods. You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred poles, set fire to the carved images of their gods, and wipe out their name from that place.”
 
So God-soaked violence became genetically coded. A radical stream of Islam now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. Israel misses no opportunity to humiliate the Palestinians with checkpoints, concrete walls, routine insults, and the onslaught in Gaza.  (Emphasis added.)

While Moyers does acknowledge Hamas desire to kill every last Jew and the existence of a “radical stream of Islam” that “seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth” he equates this hostility with a biblical and genetically encoded penchant for violence on the part of the Jewish state. Again, Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the 1990s, and yet Moyers still sees fit to portray Israel and Jews as congenitally violent.

 

According to Richard Landes, who hosts the blog Augean Stables, Alvin Rosenfeld, a professor at Indiana State University, sent Moyers an email that begins as follows:
I teach a course on antisemitism at Indiana University and today introduced the transcript of your last television program to my students. I did so in order to illustrate how the history of anti-Jewish accusations can still have a strong contemporary resonance. Your charge about violence being genetically coded, for instance, finds recognizable parallels with the rhetoric of Nazi racial antisemitism. In addition, the continuities that you seem to draw between biblical accounts of ancient Israel’s conquests and present-day Israeli military action in Gaza find a familiar place in the history of Christian anti-Judaism.
 
[Rosenfeld then asks for Moyers to apologize and retract his statements.
According to the same entry, Judea Pearl, the father of Danny Pearl, the journalist from the Wall Street Journal who was murdered by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2001 has asked to appear on Moyers’ show.
 
Bill Moyers has reached a new low.
 

 

Bill Moyers Journal (transcript excerpts)

 

Jan 9, 2009

 

BILL MOYERS: For too much of the world at large the names of the dead and wounded in Gaza might as well be John Doe too. They are the casualties and victims of Israel's decision to silence the rockets from Hamas terrorists by waging war on an entire population. Yes, every nation has the right to defend its people. Israel is no exception, all the more so because Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead.

 

But brute force can turn self defense into state terrorism. It's what the U.S. did in Vietnam, with B 52s and napalm, and again in Iraq, with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately   the elderly, kids, entire families by destroying schools and hospitals   Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.

 

Hardly had Israeli tank fire killed and injured scores at a UN school in Gaza than a senior Hamas leader went on television to announce, "The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children." Already attacks on Jews in Europe are escalating   a burning car crashes into a synagogue in Southern France, a fiery object is hurled through a window in Sweden, venomous anti Semitic graffiti appears across the continent, and arsonists strike in London.

 

What we are seeing in Gaza is the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record. Open your Bible: the sons of the patriarch Abraham become Arab and Jew. Go to the Book of Deuteronomy. When the ancient Israelites entered Canaan their leaders urged violence against its inhabitants. The very Moses who had brought down the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" now proclaimed, "You must destroy completely all the places where the nations have served their gods. You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred poles, set fire to the carved images of their gods, and wipe out their name from that place."

 

So God soaked violence became genetically coded. A radical stream of Islam now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. Israel misses no opportunity to humiliate the Palestinians with checkpoints, concrete walls, routine insults, and the onslaught in Gaza. As if boasting of their might, Israel defense forces even put up video of the explosions on YouTube for all the world to see. A Norwegian doctor there tells CBS, "It's like Dante's Inferno. They are bombing one and a half million people in a cage."

 

America has officially chosen sides. We supply Israel with money, F 16s, winks and tacit signals. Our Christian right links arms with the religious extremists there who claim divine sanctions for Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Our political elites show neither independence nor courage by challenging the consensus that Israel can do no wrong. Although one recent poll found Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24 point margin, Democratic Party leaders in Congress nonetheless march in lockstep to the hardliners in Israel and the White House. Rarely does our mainstream media depart from the monotonous monologue of the party line. Many American Jews know, as Aaron David Miller writes in the current "Newsweek", that the destruction in Gaza won't do much to address Israel's longer term needs.

 

But those who raise questions are accused by a prominent reform rabbi of being "morally deficient." One Jewish American activist told me this week that never in 30 years has he seen such blind and binding conformity in his community. "You'd never know," he said, "that it is the Gazans who are doing most of the suffering."

 

We are in a terrible bind   Israel, the Palestinians, the United States. Each greases the cycle of violence, as one man's terrorism becomes another's resistance to oppression. Is it possible to turn this mindless tragedy toward peace? For starters, read Aaron David Miller's article in the current "Newsweek". Get his book, "The Much Too Promised Land". And pay no attention to those Washington pundits cheering the fighting in Gaza as they did the bloodletting in Iraq. Killing is cheap and war is a sport in a city where life and death become abstractions of policy. Here are the people who pay the price.

 

That's it for the Journal. I'm Bill Moyers. We'll be back next week.

 

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